“OMG! Is that what I think it is nestled way back there in the corner of that big old tote? Yes, yes it is!” and I screeched with glee, jumping over a couple of boxes to get to it, as if it was going to run away on me.
“Mom, what the heck?” Tyler said as I placed this disgusting old faux leather case on the kitchen table.
“This is my past…ever seen one of these?” as I pulled out a dusty, old cassette tape that was titled in black marker, Katie’s C.U. mix ‘93. “Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen this in years!!! I wonder if it will still play?”
I was giddy, it was ridiculous… I went charging up the stairs and into the attic to grab that old CD/tape-deck/am/fm radio player that I knew we had somewhere. I specifically didn’t sell it in the yard sale for exactly this reason — I knew I would find these some day!
I felt like a child on Christmas morning last Thursday afternoon, there in my kitchen. The rain came down outside, but it was far from gloomy inside while I sifted through the old tapes; it was like a window back in time to my past, so much fun to look through and remember.
I couldn’t help but think about the hours we used to spend trying to capture that top 10 hit from the radio, applying pressure at the same time to both the play and record button, to get the very start of the song, yet trying not to jump the gun, as we wanted to miss the DJ’s intro. Then praying that someone wouldn’t walk in on the recording session or that an ambulance or fire truck wouldn’t go screaming down a distant street to ruin it. You never knew when that song was going to come on again. Yet despite all the work of trying to get it perfect, there were still songs on the tape where you could hear the closing of a door, or a quiet shhsh in the background… oh the challenges of being a child in the 80’s.
Anxiously I popped the first mixtape in the recorder as my son, in wonder, watched me. Where is that old clunky play button? I thought to myself. I tried to decipher which way the arrow was pointing and if it was a single or double arrow (remember, forward versus rewind?). My eyes just don’t focus as fast as they used to as I distanced myself from the buttons to get a clearer view. There, I found it. With grandiose, I hit play and slowly with a little bit of a whine as the reels picked up their turning pace, sound came out — one of my old favorites…”When I See You Smile…” I lit up like a Christmas Tree… oh my gosh, it still works — that gravelly, slightly distant sound, oh how I remember…
And the song, which had started at a point about three-quarters of the way through, came to an end. Without too much of a wait another favorite, “The Rose,” began. I sang out every word of every song while I made dinner, and relished the act of flipping the tapes over… my kids went into hibernation.
It was funny, I didn’t choose to play any of the cassette tapes that I had purchased years ago. All of these songs that were on the tapes I could add to my iTunes playlist and I would have had a much better sound quality.
But really, if the truth were known, it was all about the mixtapes… those that my friends made for me, my old boyfriends, my sisters… it was crazy. The going away mixes, the coming home mixes, they were all there, and so special — each tape told a story, a little bit about my past that I had forgotten or had been lurking in the far corners, just waiting for a time to come out of the dark and shine, for just a brief moment once again.
When I found the tapes I immediately took a picture of them and sent it to my college roommate… I needed to connect with someone who would get it, and who would grin as big as I did at the sight of them. I could see a beam of light over the eastern horizon as I thought about all of the roadtrips we went on listening to those mixes.
Ironically, while we were moving in November, with every box packed, every lift onto the moving truck I consistently heard: “You have so much stuff. Why don’t you get rid of some of it? Do you really need to keep this?”
And for a split second, after the comment or question, I would contemplate a larger purge. I wondered if my childhood jewelry box really needed to make the trip. I thought about chucking my light green binded 4-H records that I so carefully put together all those years ago. They were complete with photo-copied pictures and recommendation letters — did they really matter anymore?
Well, the fact was, they did still matter… to me.
And as I pulled out those tapes last week all of the reasons that I bought more totes, and justified to my friends and family about why I needed to keep all that stuff, came clear…
These tokens of my past help me to remember.
The good times and bad, the hard work, the triumphs, they all come back when that one little treasure is found. That feeling comes up to the surface and a question of “what if” conjures up. A tear may well up, a long blink with a hand to the heart stops you mid-thought.
And for a brief amount of time, you are lost in a memory — which to me, is worth all the lugging, all the space taken up, and all the time in the world.
Here’s to mixed tapes, and old jewelry boxes, love letters of yesterday and baseball caps. Save those special things and hold onto them tight. Your past is precious… to you.
With dear thoughts, Kate.